Sustainable Printers Require Multifaceted Approach

‘Enterprise clients usually have some level of company-wide program as far as sustainability goes. Toner recycling programs have been offered to all of our clients for many years. We continue to do so. If they wish to take advantage of it, it's quite simple for us to start up with them. All of our vendors offer it, so it makes it easy,’ says Danielle Wolowitz, executive vice president and owner of Shore Business Solutions.

The office printer business may be slipping in terms of devices shipped, but those printers being sold are increasingly more eco-friendly whether in terms of recyclable materials and consumables or power consumption.

The push for sustainability by office printer suppliers, solution providers, and customers comes as the total number of hardcopy peripherals, which includes single-function and multi-function printers and single-function digital copiers, fell by 15.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to the fourth quarter of 2022, according to IDC.

Sustainability is increasingly a concern of enterprise printer clients, said Danielle Wolowitz, executive vice president and owner of Shore Business Solutions, a Wall, N.J.-based office automation solution provider.

[Related: Managed Services Increasingly Important For Modern Office Printing]

“Enterprise clients usually have some level of company-wide program as far as sustainability goes,” Wolowitz said. “Toner recycling programs have been offered to all of our clients for many years. We continue to do so. If they wish to take advantage of it, it's quite simple for us to start up with them. All of our vendors offer it, so it makes it easy.”

Smaller customers are conscientious of sustainability, Wolowitz said.

“But are they making a decision on print based on that?” she said. “No, not that we see, at least. For midsize business, it really depends on the market. If you're talking government and education, yes, it plays a role. If you're talking private sector, not as much.”

Most printers still are usable at the end of a managed services contract, Wolowitz said, and so her company continues to reuse them when possible

“In a lot of cases, depending on the model, they'll go into a holding cell for us to use for spare parts, like doors or hinges or things along those lines that could break on other machines out in the field,” she said. “And then the others that really don't have a life will get disposed of accordingly. We also keep a stock of loaners in case they’re needed so that this way, if we have to bring anything to the shop to do work on it, we have the ability to do a hot swap for a customer.”

Vendors Taking Multiple Paths To Sustainability

Printer vendors have a variety of programs and processes in place to help businesses meet their sustainability needs, executives told CRN for Printer Week 2024.

Chris White, senior director of Lexmark’s global product strategy and portfolio management organization, told CRN that for all electronics, the most sustainable activity is to make fewer products while building devices to last and for repairability.

“Lexmark is ensuring that devices are in the field seven to 10 years,” White said. “The vast majority of printers have had three- to five-year replacement cycles in the past. If you take a device that used to be in the field for five years, and just extend it to seven, that's 40 percent less raw materials you have to pull out of the earth to build new devices.”

Lexmark also builds products that are ready for second or third lives by making them easy to repair as part of a strategy to be carbon-neutral by 2035, White said.

Increased printer lifespans should have no real impact on channel partners because of the shift towards annuities, White said.

“The industry and the channel make money when people are printing pages, and not by just acquiring and deploying a new device,” he said. “Think of all the subscriptions that you're now paying for. More and more of the revenue going to the manufacturers, even on mobile devices, is going to annuities-based business model. That should diminish the pressure for people feeling like I need to make and sell more things.”

Lexmark also offers broad-based cartridge recycling programs to bring the cartridges back, dismantle them, and reuse and recycle components, White said.

“We have been pushing the envelope in terms of high-capacity toner yields printing 50,000 pages, for example, in a cartridge,” he said. “So that cartridge remains in the field, and I don't need to build three of them at 15,000 pages apiece. And then when it is done, we’re actively recollecting them, dismantling, reusing what we can, recycling what we can.”

Dino Pagliarello, Sharp’s vice president of product management and production, told CRN that his company in the U.S. is following the sustainability standards its European operations follow.

“That goes for all certifications,” Pagliarello said. “This includes making sure we have the appropriate amount of recycled materials within the device from a manufacturing perspective, that we have recycling programs in place, things like that. And we're going to continue on that path. As a matter of fact, I recently came back from a trip to Japan, and probably 25 percent of our overall conversation was how we can be more sustainable as a company. We have a zero-carbon goal as an organization by 2050, and by 2030 to be 80 percent of that goal.”

Sustainability is something customers are demanding, Pagliarello said.

“We're seeing it more in the larger bids that it's important you are EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a government standard for environmental friendliness,” he said. “Customers are asking for it in bid opportunities. We're really seeing it in our European operation, especially from a bid perspective. And we see that coming to the U.S. shortly. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”

Reusing old printers is becoming the norm among Sharp’s channel partners, Pagliarello said.

“They may, at the end of a lease, resell the used piece of equipment and release it as a second lifetime product in a new environment,” he said. “A lot of that happened during COVID, during the inventory crisis. So I think it’s become the norm.”

EPEAT, which has a much broader criteria set than the Energy Star standard of the past, has become a litmus test for sustainability, said Kevin Price, Canon’s director of marketing.

“EPEAT looks at everything from supply chain to consumption,” Price told CRN. “We're using that as a standard to help ensure the devices we're bringing to market really are of the highest degree when it comes from a sustainability standpoint. We also were the first in the market to introduce a toner recycling program.”

Canon is seeing more customer discussion around sustainability, and it has found its ways into RFPs (requests for proposals) more than in the past, Price said.

“Larger organizations are typically going to be looking at it perhaps a bit more than smaller companies, but there are also consumers that are environmentally-led,” he said. “But from an industry standpoint, it's much more part of the conversation and part of the table stakes perhaps than it was a couple years ago.”

As a company, Brother is working toward being more sustainable all the way from local sales offices up to corporate, said Shelly Radler, senior product marketing manager for the company.

“We're looking at including making the devices more energy efficient, having more recycled content in the devices, and using less polystyrene and more corrugated paper in the packaging,” Radler told CRN. “Some of the new models that we've launched have EPEAT Gold.”

Globally, Brother has been looking at making its facilities, including warehouses and factories, more energy efficient, Radler said. In some locations, consumables have been recycled as well, she said.

Brother is also looking at making all its packaging recyclable, and is already moving in that direction with its newest lines, Radler said. However, she said, it is not as easy to do with existing products. “That requires almost a new design of the package because it's a different durability requirement, and also depends on the availability of the materials,” she said.

Hewlett Packard continues to see sustainability a critical part of what companies want from the company, said Sue Richards, division president of HP’s homeprinting business.

“When printers arrive on corporate sites, [we want to ensure] that they're shipped in a sustainable way, that there isn't a lot of Styrofoam that has to be dealt with or recycled, that they have an appropriate energy consumption and continued improvement across their energy consumption, and that they're completely manageable and serviceable,” Richards told CRN.

HP has been investing in bringing more recycled plastic into its products as well as increasing the use of molded fiber paper-based packaging, a move that requires new engineering for heavy products like printers, Richards said.

“This is where we're doing supplier development to really make sure that we're creating the right molded fiber capability, completely recyclable, sustainable, and being able to support the weight of those printers during shipping,” she said.

HP also looks at recycling and reusing ink cartridges via its EvoMore cartridges for its Officejet Pro series, Richards said. “We want to make sure that we're creating those recycled plastics with a commitment to bring them back as an ink cartridge and be able to reuse or recycle them again,” she said.